The 2010 NFL Preview
The AFC East and North


We begin our 2010 evaluation of the NFL with the AFC East and North.

I’m trying to stay focused on just a couple of things for each club, and when possible, offer a bit of outside thinking and perspective. Hopefully… in a few cases… I’ll accomplish that and give you something different to think about.


Before we actually dig into the teams, let’s get this right out of the way… this division has me more confused and concerned than any other. There’s something crazy going on here. Well… actually… there’s alot of crazy here.

For instance… Miami. Anyone else notice that in all of the cornerbacks holding out… quarterbacks hating New York… don’t swear so much… a cocky attitude is good… news being spun out there, no one seems to talk about the Dolphins? Heck, when it comes to the 2010 season and teams that could make the playoffs or teams that could show improvement, I’m hearing more about the Texans, Raiders, 49ers and Panthers than I am about the Dolphins. Everyone nods when you mention them, or brings them up when mentioning playoff-level clubs, but no one is discussing them in depth. And that’s in part because…

The New York Jets. It’s like they have their own network… all Jets… all the time. HBO. Football preview shows. Bandwagons are dangerous things though. We’ll talk a bit about that in their section. But check these concepts out: a quarter of their season involves Miami and New England… their season starts with Baltimore and New England at home, then Miami and Buffalo on the road (for those keeping score, that’s three potential playoff teams bang-bang-bang, and week two starts three tough divisional games bang-bang-bang, and a quick read of the easiest of the four games shows it to be the one on the road against a team that gave them fits in 2009)… Minnesota, at Denver, Green Bay, at Pittsburgh are there (not easy games). Now, as you kick all of that around and say something along the lines of it not being that bad, let’s toss in that I didn’t mention Houston and Cincinnati. See, those two are colorful teams that are getting some play for this season. And New York faces them back-to-back, at home, in the shortened-week Thanksgiving rush. I just don’t see a place where you can comfortably be predicting them to go 3-1 or 4-0 over a stretch of games. If they get to 9 or 10 wins, I think it’s going to be an impressive accomplishment but in no way a dominating display.

And, oh yeah, New England. Which team will the Patriots put on the field? Are they still too young on defense? Does the offense have a chance of coming back to perform at unstoppable levels with record-setting displays?

New England (11 – 5) ~ Yup. Too many wins. I could see someone saying that.

But the reality is, I only see one part of the schedule that could cause problems… coming off their week four bye, they host Baltimore, travel to San Diego, and then return home for Minnesota. I think I may have them with too few wins. There are some tough games there, and an early bye week, but for every battle against Indianapolis there is a turnaround to face Detroit before or after that game. It may not be an easy schedule, but it just doesn’t look like it’s littered with landmines if they can return to the New England teams that focused on games and not the distractions.

The offense should be interesting to watch. Brady played fairly well last year, coming back from an injury that sidelined him in 2008, and while playing through a variety of other injuries. He’s now got a pretty good chance at being completely recovered and rust-free. A deep and talented group of wide receivers means that if they can get just an average running attack going the offense should be very good. Heck… they even seem to have tight ends that can block and catch instead of either-or.

So… we turn our attention to the defense. And the reality is… forget the arguments about young and old and crafty coaching. The big things are sometimes the simplest. This is no exception. Tell me about the defensive line. Injuries for this season and roster changes in recent years have left them looking thin on the line. If they don’t get pressure on the opposing quarterback, two things are going to happen: (1) People like Mark Sanchez are going to be standing long enough to read War and Peace, which means they’ll be staying on the field for longer drives (even if they aren’t scoring many points). (2) Longer drives means less possessions for the Patriot offense, which means less points scored, which means closer games… and if you want to have some fun, go check out the Jets in 2009 and see how they did in close games. (Ok… partial spoiler… in the regular season, only the Patriots (in one the two games they played) and the Saints defeated the Jets by more than 5 points. Yup… 9-7 and only twice were they really out of it. You don’t want one-score games, no matter what the point spreads tell you. Gives the other team too much of a chance.)

If the Patriots can generate a pass rush, they’ll be an elite club. If they can’t, they’ll still make the playoffs, but don’t expect them to last long.

Miami (10 – 6) ~ Beyond the backfield, there isn’t one thing about the Miami Dolphins that excites me… and that works completely in their favor. Because I’ve watched several of their games in recent years, and it’s like they know their entire team has to deliver every week or they’ll lose. It’s a simply brilliant team effort, every week. They don’t panic when they get behind… they don’t get comfortable when they have a lead… they just slowly and methodically work at being ahead when time runs out.

Brandon Marshall is an interesting addition to this club. If nothing else, simply because if you wanted to say he goes directly against that team philosophy I just mentioned, I couldn’t really argue the point. Instead of heading in that direction though, let’s match him up with Chad Henne. See… I loved the wildcat once Henne was starting. Because that’s when I saw the true beauty of it. Young quarterback, in need of coaching and situational management, and instead of calling timeout after timeout they would run the wildcat and bring Henne to the sideline for a play or two. Brilliant. Worked for them in a ton of ways, from forcing the defense to adjust to the personnel and formation to the ability to work with Henne on the sidelines. Now it’s a year later. And Marshall adds a receiving threat to a team desperately in need of receivers, at a point where Henne is looking to develop a bit more. This could be an amazingly timed transaction where everyone in Miami wins.

New York (Jets) (8 – 8) ~ Maybe I’m giving New England too much credit. Maybe they are too old and too young and playing with a different mentality in the locker room that will never be as focused as it once was. And in the same regard, maybe I’m approaching New York with too much “beware of the team everyone is talking about” on my mind.


The thing is, I tend to believe two things about luck. First, you can create it. And by that I mean that you can prepare for certain situations… be better coached… be more disciplined… and even simply be more talented. You can generate self-fulfilling prophecies. Without babbling forever, you’re damn right it seems like certain players and teams get lucky more often than others. Don’t be so quick to dismiss it as a fluke. (Or the officiating.) And second, many aspects of luck, even when you consider what I just said, are flukes. Last year on October 18th, the Jets hosted the Buffalo Bills. They lost in overtime, 16-13. They lost with 7 turnovers… 5 interceptions and 2 fumbles. They lost in overtime, and funny enough, they couldn’t score in the second half. 13 points in the first half. That was one of their losses. This season... maybe it becomes a win.

Trying to keep those two ideas in mind though, we arrive at a little debate of sorts. Are the Jets likely to be more prepared, better coached, or significantly more talented than teams like the Dolphins and Patriots? No. I don’t think so. I believe both of those teams will be equally… if not better… prepared and coached and talented in virtually all areas.

And if we eliminate luck as a result of being more prepared to take advantage of opportunity, we are left with option number two. Are we likely to see places where everything goes right and breaks in their favor for no apparent reason other than it just did? And for that one it is simply too soon to tell.

Did the Jets get Oakland and Cincinnati at exactly the right moments last season? Perhaps… and maybe they won’t this year. Can they beat the Bills, or this time will the Bills beat themselves? Again… don’t know. On the flip side of that coin, I also told you a moment ago that out of 7 losses, 5 of them were by 5-points or less. Maybe they defeat Atlanta… maybe Miami doesn’t deliver that ridiculous series of scoring with their offense on the sidelines… maybe they will win 10… 11… 12 games.

What it all comes down to though is this… I don’t think Sanchez is ready to run an offense without a supporting cast around him to provide help. And, while there are some reasons to believe their running game will be good, I wonder if it will be as effective. Rex Ryan knows as well as anyone… his Baltimore heritage considered… what happens to the emotions of a defense when they are asked to not only stop the opposing offense, but also score the points to win the game because the offense can’t.

I’m not predicting a losing season for the Jets. I’m just expecting some speed bumps they avoided last season to turn against them this year.

Buffalo (4 – 12) ~ If they don’t go 0-6 against the division I’d be stunned. Well… stunned is a tough word and probably isn’t true… but there is a clear division between the first three teams in the AFC East and the Bills, and there is no chance they can split those contests. They will have a losing record in the division… and a losing record for the year.

(And… watch them carefully. Because the Dolphins, Patriots and Jets could end up doing all sorts of funny things to each other. Miami could sweep New York, then lose two to New England. In a division that might have first and third place separated by one game and a tie-breaker, a loss to Buffalo could be huge.)

With Miami, Green Bay, New England and New York (Jets) lined up to start the year, it is very possible they finish the first weekend of October at 0-4 overall and 0-3 in the division. If that happens… heck, once that happens… does it really matter against Kansas City and Detroit and Cleveland?

I could try to say more, but where would I start? This is a club that is still looking for someone to replace Drew Bledsoe and Doug Flutie at quarterback. And, frankly, I don’t think that’s much of an exaggeration.


If the AFC East had me the most confused and concerned, the AFC North isn’t far behind. Is Pittsburgh out of it or a contender? Should we believe in the Bengals? And then the Ravens… yeah… what about Baltimore?

Here’s what I can tell you… the only team in the division that I think other clubs are taking seriously is Baltimore. Solid running game… solid defense… and they should be fairly consistent every week. All of the others it just depends. Pittsburgh could thump you mercilessly… and they could roll over and play dead.

Baltimore (11 – 5) ~ Ray Rice is the man. A game-changer. Whether running the ball or catching passes, just one touch can completely swing the flow of any contest. (Just ask New England about that, focusing on their playoff contest from last season.)

And that’s why I like Baltimore.

Sure… I wonder if they don’t have a bit too much attitude on the roster. Anquan Boldin coming in to join some of those names from the defensive side you know so well will give you those thoughts. But I don’t think it matters.

See… I expect the offensive to have some 30+… 35+… 40+ point games where everything goes right. I expect the defense to hold opponents to 15 or less fairly often. And, I believe the times when the defense fails and the offense sputters in the same game will be rare. As in… oh… no more than 4 or 5 times.

This is a club with a legitimate eye on the Super Bowl. All of the team… offense, defense and special teams… will have to play well for that to happen, because they don’t have the very best offense, very best defense or very best special teams units. But, they are capable of it.

Pittsburgh (8 – 8) ~ Seriously… remember the comments about the Pittsburgh team chemistry from last season, such as the ones about Roethlisberger and his motivation to be on the field? Even if those comments were misplaced and misguided and even misquoted, the idea remains. If we chalk up some of the inexplicable losses of last season to those elements the regular fans don’t get to see, I can only guess that the recent off-season events did not improve the old clubhouse for Pittsburgh.

The Steelers have an interesting schedule. The only division game they have without Roethlisberger (who, as of this writing, had his suspension cut to four games) is against Baltimore. So that’s good.

Once he returns though, check out this stretch of five games… Cleveland, at Miami, at New Orleans, at Cincinnati, New England. Two divisional games and three really tough non-divisional games. Yeah, that’s bad.

In December the Steelers play all three divisional opponents, plus the Jets and the Panthers.

Long story short… those opening four weeks are really, really going to matter. And as I look things over, I figure they’ll be fortunate to start off 2-2… with things staying just about even all the way to the end of the year.

I do not expect big things.

Cincinnati (8 – 8) ~ I’m not a believer.

Let’s take a look at Buffalo last year. I’m not saying this is accurate… but I don’t think it’s insane to suggest that on the surface, at the beginning of the 2009 season, the Bills combination of Owens and Evans was as talented and potentially threatening as the 2010 Bengals union of Owens and Ochosiesta.

Owens and Evans played in all 16 regular season games and combined… combined… as in, added together… combined they didn’t reach 100 catches.

Owens and Evans played in all 16 regular season games and the two primary quarterbacks on the team, Edwards and Fitzpatrick, barely cleared 2,500-yards.

Now… I understand the arguments. Better quarterback here… better team… so on and so forth. But umm… yeah… one football. I’m not amazingly concerned as an opponent about this combination. In fact, I think I’d game plan to entice them to throw to Owens to start the game, hit him hard once or twice early, and then spend the afternoon watching him short-arm everything else while I focus on Ochosiesta. (Or, take a siesta.)

Last season the Bengals cleared the 20-point mark 6 times. Six… 6… that’s it, six times.

If I went on some more, I’d essentially be babbling. But what I can tell you is I’m not a believer. Something is wrong here, and Cincy isn’t as good as folks may want to believe.

Cleveland (6 – 10) ~ The Browns will get a few wins, but there are way more questions than answers in Cleveland. Quick… name me one player on the Cleveland roster. Come on… tick… tick… tick… time’s up.

Not that names are important. You probably don’t know anyone playing defense for Miami and I think they’ll be fine. But the simple fact is that this club is working toward the future and not the present. In fact, the Raiders are probably closer to finding some answers and getting to 8-8 in the next season or three than the Browns are.

If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at